I started writing this in 2013 when I learned the details of my grandmother’s illness. The idea of living in a world without her is still very strange.
In so many ways, I’ve always wanted to be like my grandmother. Boots is the grandest, most gracious, and openhearted person I’ve had the good fortune to be shaped by. She’s always made time for not just me but all of her grandchildren and great-grand children. I’m thankful for every lunch date, every movie, every play, every card, and every phone call. Her presence filled rooms. She ignited me and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say she ignited the world of everyone she met.
She wanted to support me in my pursuits but went out of her way to explain she never demanded my attention. She made sure shy grandchildren like me were the ones who came first, that we became confident individuals rather than shadows. Boots never wanted to use us as a crutch or become a burden. Nothing could be further from the truth. She was always, and I hope will be remembered as, a delight.
She looked up to her parents, an opera singer and a doctor. One of the cornerstones of her life was the legacy of her father, Dr. David Kallman, a young immigrant from Lithuania who traveled to the US as a teenager. You could tell he was the light of her life the way she’s been the light of mine. When I was young, I remember visiting his grave with her to put a stone on it at Lakeview Cemetery. Afterward, in the car while she was close to tears, she told me her father always said that after his death, “I will live through you.”
I think of this story now because I believe Boots did the same thing. If one of the reasons humans are here is to leave an impression on our friends and relations before we fade back into the dark, she’s more than done that. Her spirit and vigor helped craft the people her children, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren have turned out to be, enriching our minds with art, theater, and her good taste, making the neural pathways, the individual brain patterns and movements of the heart, that became us.
Her passion has impacted myself and, consequently, all those with whom I’ve interacted. The mark she’s made will continue to affect those I meet for the remainder of my own days and those who will come after me who I, in turn, affect. In this way, I know for sure she’s immortal. All of her family and friends are her, carrying the presence she’s invested in us.
My grandmother’s body, however, became tired. She knew this for years, mentioning the people she thought about every day who have left us and which material items she’s gained in the course of her days that she wanted us to have. I see her life as a long, beautiful party but I think she was ready to call it a day. Not everyone gets to reach that point. The last time I saw her, she was drifting in and out of sleep, recalling fondly that my cousin Lesley and her daughter Louise would be visiting later in the week. She began to sing the song “Louise” soon after before she closed her eyes again. That was her all over.
There are rare people who combine all the qualities Boots had. Her unabashed nostalgia, the intensity of her love, and her warmth made her into a rare sort of person. I’m so proud to be her granddaughter, a conductor of the electricity that ran through her, a keeper of her light long after the source has gone out.